|Obama’s Debate Performance: Fluent, But False|
By Troy Senik
Thursday, October 18 2012
On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney met for their second debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Unlike his listless performance in the first debate in Denver, the president this time was energetic and aggressive. What he wasn’t, however, was particularly cogent. Here, then, are some of his most misleading statements of the night:
On Education (in response to a college student’s question about employment prospects after graduation): “…the fact that you’re going to college is great, but I want everybody to get a great education and we’ve worked hard to make sure that student loans are available for folks like you.”
The Reality: There are two serious problems with the kind of government subsidies to higher education that Obama is describing here. (1) The financial assistance spurs demand for college attendance, driving up prices. What results is a vicious cycle in which ever-increasing subsidies try to keep pace with the ever-increasing tuition that they’re creating. (2) Artificially expanding the number of people in college drives down the value of a bachelor’s degree. This is the root of the frequent anecdotal observation that a college degree today is worth roughly what a high school diploma was worth a generation ago. Thus, the upshot of Obama’s policy would be America’s college students paying much more for credentials that are worth much less.
On Energy: “We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades.”
The Reality: Obama may as well claim credit for the weather if he’s going to boast about expanded energy production as an accomplishment. Just because it happened during his presidency doesn’t mean that he was responsible for it.
The vast majority of new oil production (which is at a nine-year high, not 16), comes from private land and private developers, while the Obama Administration has sharply decreased production on federal land. Ditto for natural gas. And as for the tiny amount that does come from new federal projects … you guessed it – it was initiated by the Bush Administration. What energy successes we are realizing are in spite of President Obama’s policies, not because of them.
On Taxes: “I said I would cut taxes for small businesses, who are the drivers and engines of growth. And we’ve cut them 18 times.”
The Reality: Obama is at his worse in situations like this, when he essentially tries to respond to complaints about the battered condition of the economy by saying, “You don’t know how good you have it.” As Investor’s Business Daily noted over the summer, “In fact, if you look at Obama's list, you quickly realize that all but four [tax cuts] have either expired or will soon expire, aren't cuts at all, or are double-counted. And the rest are pretty much worthless.”
What’s more, the group that Obama is citing consists almost entirely of penny ante deductions and credits – which increase economic inefficiency and compound the already cumbersome process of preparing proper returns. None of them consist of actual rate reductions, the royal road to stimulating growth through the tax code.
Even worse, the one area from which Obama has cut rates is on the payroll tax, which is used to finance Social Security. As a result, the retirement program is losing around $100 billion a year without anything to make up for the deficit, hastening its voyage towards unsustainability. Since government spending is the real rate of taxation (everything Washington spends, after all, has to be funded by taxpayers eventually, even if it’s on a credit card today), this is hardly an example of benevolence on the part of the White House.
On Immigration: “… We do have to deal with our border so we put more border patrol on the [Mexican border than at] any time in history and the flow of undocumented workers across the border is actually lower than it’s been in 40 years.”
The Reality: A nice attempt at a dodge, but one that bears little resemblance to the truth. As the Pew Hispanic Center has documented, the decline in illegal immigration attributable to deportations is a decided minority. A far greater source is the anemic economy Obama has presided over for the past four years, which has removed many of the economic inducements that used to draw populations north from Mexico.
Obama’s line here was ironic, as he had argued earlier in the evening that the steep increase in gas prices during his presidency was partially attributable to the fact that they were artificially low when he took office because the financial crisis had driven down demand (a point that does actually explain some – but only some – of the increase). A failure to apply the same logic to immigration reveals a president either mentally dull or intentionally disingenuous.
On His Political Ideology: “I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known. I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk takers being rewarded.”
The Reality: I’ll let the president rebut this one himself:
“I actually believe in redistribution” – October 1998
“One of the, I think, the tragedies of the civil rights movement, was because the civil rights movement became so court focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributive change, and in some ways we still suffer from that.” – September 2001
“I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.” – October 2008
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